By Barbara van Benthem
“Siena is like a bit of Venice, without the water”, Charles Dickens wrote in his “Pictures from Italy” (1846). Indeed, there are not enough words to describe the beauty of Siena in Tuscany, whose medieval centre has rightly been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Siena is famous for its art and culture, libraries and museums, the medieval cityscape and the Palio, a horse race held twice a year on the Piazza del Campo, and most of all: for its magnificent atmosphere.
The four days in Siena from 26th to 29th September, 2013, brought together 18 presidents of the League’s 22 member associations. They came along together with their spouses from the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, Denmark, Spain, Belgium, Russia, Hungary, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden, France, Austria, the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland. Fabrizio Govi, president of the Italian Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ALAI), was the perfect host and organizer. He did not spare any effort to make the stay of the ILAB delegates as comfortable as possible and went to great lengths to prepare a very enticing programme. It provided the ideal background for a President’s Meeting that gave interesting insights into recent developments of the rare book business along with fruitful and controversial discussions about the future of the trade.
The Committee Members came together on Thursday, 26th September. After a very productive meeting, the Presidents who had arrived by then and the Committee enjoyed a welcome dinner at the Ristorante Millevini. On this occasion Jim Hinck, the mastermind behind the ILAB Metasearch, was honoured with the ILAB Medal for his great work and generosity. The next morning saw the visit of the Biblioteca Comunale, which owns a rich collection of around 20.000 early printed books, 86.000 brochures, 820 incunabula, 5.226 manuscripts, 20.000 autographs, and prints, and the State Archive where we admired the rare and beautiful Tavolette di Biccherna – 13th to 16th century wooden boards painted with tempera or oil as covers of the records from the office of Biccherna. The visit to the extraordinary Cathedral, a magnificent example of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture, was another cultural highlight of the day. There the ILAB delegates were lucky to see the mosaiqued floor which is covered with a thick carpet for protection eleven out of twelve months a year, and the impressive Piccolomini library, founded by Francesco Piccolomini (Pope Pius III.), in honour of his uncle Enea Silvio Piccolomini (Pope Pius II.). In the evening: wine tasting at Castello Fonterutoli.
Back to business on Saturday at the Biblioteca Comunale for the ILAB President’s Meeting. The annual general meeting is the supreme governing body of the League, where the decisions are taken which the ILAB Committee puts into practice over the year. New on the agenda were detailed reports from the National Associations. The presidents were asked to inform about the state of the trade and recent activities in their countries. In general, the high end market seems to be doing very well and is not affected by the financial crisis, but the middle range market is not moving much so that dealers in this segment are finding it harder to sell their books. While the number of street shops is going down, the book fairs still seem to be doing well. Great ideas have been developed in Australia with the Melbourne Rare Book Week – a role model for future book-related events.
Michel Bouvier introduced a promising sponsoring project which could be of great benefit to all antiquarian book fairs supported by ILAB. And there is even more work in progress, organized by ILAB’s Executive Secretary: first, a book with articles about book collecting in all member countries of the League with an introduction by Umberto Eco, to be published in time for the Paris Congress; second, a new edition of the ILAB Directory; third, the next printed newsletter which will be published at the end of the year.
After the meeting the delegates went to visit the charming city of Pienza, where the last descendant of the Piccolomini family died in 1962 and bequeathed his palace to a foundation. There, overlooking the picturesque Tuscan countryside, the ILAB President’s Meeting 2013 ended beautifully with a dinner in the garden of the palace.
>>> Picture gallery
(Many thanks to N.M. for her invaluable help.)